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product design

03 Jul

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The most interesting indie R&D shops

July 3, 2014 | By |

Indie R&D Shops

 

For future reference, a short list of some of the more interesting independent companies, studios, design and dev shops that are engaged in invention, prototyping or research & development.

Some work mostly in software, some more with hardware or interfaces. Some more conceptual, some more product-oriented, some squarely in between.

  • Hubbub invent and build playful digital products. Berlin/Utrecht.
  • überproduct. Protyping and external R&D, in code or on paper. Berlin.
  • The Incredible Machine. Focus on connected devices/IoT. Rotterdam.
  • Near Future Lab. Thinking, making, design, development and research practice. (Several locations across California & Europe)
  • Relative Wave. Focus on software and visual stuff. San Francisco.
  • BERG London. Just included for historical reasons as they are not taking on client work after transitioning their business to build BERGCloud.
  • MCQN is all about the IoT. They build connected devices, for clients and themselves. Liverpool.
  • HardwareLabs.io turns hardware prototypes into finished products. London.

If you are aware of others that should be part of this list, please let me know.

 

Full disclosure: Many friends on this list. Alper of Hubbub and I share an office at the time of writing this. Hubbub, überproduct, The Incredible Machine and BERG London all have been involved as speakers at conferences of mine.

18 Jun

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Exciting current wearable projects

June 18, 2014 | By |

For future reference, a few current wearables projects and products I find particularly interesting, in no particular order:

  • Urban Armor is a collection of DIY wearable electronics that help women exercise control over their personal/public space. urbanarmor.org
  • Ringly is a line of connected rings that let you put your phone away and your mind at ease. It connects to your phone and sends you customized notifications through vibration and light. ringly.com
  • Moto360, Motorola’s Android-based smart watch, announced to be released this summer, is on the corporate end of the consumer gadget scale, but it’s ambitious and really nice looking, at least judging by the current renderings. Without a long-term commitment (let’s say 5+ years) that the software will be maintained and updated, smart watches are a slightly silly investment though.moto360.motorola.com
  • x.pose is a wearable data-driven sculpture that exposes a person’s skin as a real-time reflection of the data that the wearer is producing. Personally I’d prefer it didn’t try to be lingerie-ish but rather, dunno, a face mask or so, but it’s an interesting concept. xc-cd.com
  • wearui.co is a database of wearable UI concepts. wearui.co
  • The Dash, a wireless in-ear headphone set that also tracks vital signs, is Bragi’s first product. It’s very ambitious in scope and also one of the most successful Kickstarters from Europe. Bragi.com

10 Apr

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Smart appliances & consumer priorities

April 10, 2014 | By |

The other day I ordered a new washing machine. Our old one had broken down, mid-wash, and the cost for the repair would have been out of proportion. So I quickly checked a few reviews and settled on a new one, ordered it online to be delivered a couple days later and was done with it.

Yesterday it occurred to me – 9th of April is Internet of Things (IoT) Day, you see – that it never even crossed my mind to check for a smart, connected washing machine.

The Internet of Things is on my mind every single day in work and peer discussions. I have a conference about it (ThingsCon)! And still, not a single thought about a connected washing machine.

Habit? Maybe. Was I in a hurry to replace the old machine? Certainly. But mainly I think it’s a matter of priorities, of actual problems to be solved. It’s just not currently important enough as an issue.

As the smart folks over at BERGCloud have demonstrated, a smart washing machine would be very useful and nice, if done right:

 

Cloudwash: the connected washing machine from BERG on Vimeo.

 

But this got me thinking about solutionism, and how many IoT products currently are solutions looking for a problem, diluting a field that’s hard to grasp for consumers to begin with.

Also, I started a quick search for current connected washing machines. Turns out quite a few brands do offer smart machines right now. But I dare you, right now, to try to figure out details for, say, a Miele smart machine. It’s impossible to navigate and figure out online what’s going on. After some embedded, hard to read, PDF-ish magazines with praising connectivity in general, I gave up. It almost seems like they aren’t even trying to communicate their offers in the field.

Add the relative longevity of household appliances and connectivity isn’t such an easy sell.

My laundry, for better or worse, will be washed without smartphone for a while to come.

17 Mar

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The year of the connected device, but consumer IoT startups face big challenges

March 17, 2014 | By |

Over on the BoschSI Internet of Things blog, I contributed a short piece on the challenges that startups in the consumer IoT space are facing.

There is hardly any doubt that 2014 is the year when connected devices – particularly wearables – will go mainstream. Technology tradeshows and media alike are practically bursting at the seams with new products, concepts, and announcements for connected devices.

It’s worth noting that this is quite a special slice of the Internet of Things: this isn’t about the industrial internet, it’s about bringing the IoT to consumers. This is a very different story altogether, a segment with its own opportunities, challenges, and dynamics, one that exists at the intersection of various verticals – think home automation, wearables, connected mobility, personal analytics, health tech. It’s a space where the lines aren’t yet fully drawn, the terminology not yet fully evolved – which is usually a sign of a field that’s moving quickly and innovating. In other words, this is where some truly innovative and interesting stuff is happening.

Read the full text here.

16 Jan

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Deckset: Build your presentations in Markdown

January 16, 2014 | By |

For the last few days I’ve been beta testing Deckset, a Markdown-based presentation tool for Mac built by (among others) Chris Eidhof, one of my partners in UIKonf. (In fact, I believe I might have been user #1, but who knows.)

And boy, Deckset is delightful to work with. As someone who quite regularly, but not all-that-frequently gives presentations, I know my way around Keynote of course, but don’t have the kind of massive collection of slides (or even a cool customized template) that more frequent speakers do. So for me, being able to edit really quickly and to work with some design constraints is just perfect.

To give you an idea just how much of a breeze it is to work with Deckset: You write your text in very simple Markdown syntax into a text file, drop in the picture name, place the picture in the same folder as the markdown file. Done. Editing happens straight in the text file. Again, you save, and you’re done.

 

Deckset turns this…

 

Deckset syntax

 

…into this:

 

Deckset screenshot Image by mikebaird, CC by

 

There are constraints — lots of constraints — in what you can do in terms of layout. It’s Markdown, so it’s pretty basic: Headers, lists, bold and italic, that kind of thing. Deckset does the rest.

Deckset comes with a selection of templates, and you can tell that a team of (I say this as a compliment) total type nerds built it – the templates look gorgeous. The first preview (1.0) came with something like 4 templates of 3 color combinations each; this morning’s update (1.3) brought it up to 4 templates and 4-7 color combinations each. They range from very serious/timeless (“Classic”) to one alluding to the era and style of Mad Men (“Swiss”) to quite bold (“Poster”) to playful (“Superfun”).

It’s all about image + text, so the team had to come up with some solutions on how to handle images in very different ways: Where the Poster theme leaves the images more or less as vibrant as they are and just throws large, bold-ish typeface on top, the Swiss theme pushes the images more into the background, converted into grayscale and overlaid with a single color, so it’s more focused on the type. The Modern theme is somewhere in between: Images stay in color, but are blurred to serve as background more than as images. Switching between themes happens on the fly, no re-rendering necessary.

Oh yes, Deckset also supports clickers and does PDF exports of course.

So who is Deckset for?

Deckset is for… anyone who regularly does presentations and likes to edit them very simply on the fly. If you just occasionally do presentations and want them to look great without using the Keynote standard templates, Deckset is great too.

 

Deckset is not for… speakers who have their own custom-made templates and are very invested in their collection of Keynote slides, or who need to show videos as part of their presentations.

 

Why the long write up? For one, when friends build great tools it’s worth a shout out. More importantly, Deckset is a great tool to for me, and I’m going to test it in the field next week for a talk in Amsterdam (so it’d better work!). I’m not sure when Deckset will be out officially, but the moment it is I’ll be the first in line to pay for my copy.

 

You can sign up for the invitation list on decksetapp.com.

 

Full disclosure: I’m currently using the app for free as a beta tester.

11 Dec

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ThingsCon early bird tickets: available tomorrow morning

December 11, 2013 | By |

A quick announcement: We’re about to launch the website for ThingsCon. Along with the first few confirmed (and amazing, brilliant) speakers, we’ll also start sales of early bird tickets. Supply is limited, so be there on time – the shop goes live at 10am CET (that is, Berlin-time) sharp. First come, first serve!

Also, juggling Call for Proposal forms and Twitter accounts and emails really drove home one point:

Next May will be insane for me. I’m heavily involved in three conferences within just about two weeks:

This might turn out to be brilliant planning or a disaster — I’m guessing it’s a 50/50 chance — but as you know I somewhat thrive on these intense peak times.

So, see you on the other side – and if you consider coming to ThingsCon, make sure to hit refresh at 10am sharp tomorrow morning.

29 Nov

By

It’s time to take a fresh look at THINGS

November 29, 2013 | By |

Things

 

We’re organizing Things, an independent two day event about the future of hardware and the hardware business. This is why, and what we’re planning.

Basic info

  • Date: 2-3 May 2014
  • Location: Berlin (details TBD)
  • Format: 2 day conference full of talks, demos, learning & networking
  • Website: thingscon.com
  • Twitter: @thingscon
  • Sign up for launch news here

Why ThingsCon? Why now?

Over the last few years, we’ve been seeing three trends — or rather, narratives — emerge.

1. Hardware and software are increasingly merging

Hardware and software are merging, and in many ways becoming more similar. This goes by many different names, all strongly related and with only slightly different focus. To name just a few: Internet of Things (IoT), connected devices, post-digital, smart things, machine-to-machine (M2M), physical web. (There are many more names.)

No matter which terminology you prefer, what we see is the culmination of a number of developments that lead to devices of all sorts being connected to the internet.

That kind of changes everything: Devices can communicate, so they produce data that can trigger actions beyond said devices. Devices can respond to external triggers. They stop existing as a discreet unit and rather become part of a larger system, an ecosystem, a responsive environment.

It also means that product design becomes a whole different beast. Now a device isn’t “done” once it leaves the factory, rather it can be updated like software (because it is part software), it evolves over time. We need to rethink obsolescence, maintenance, compatibility over time. Once connected, devices — more than ever — have implications for privacy, security and data ownership (see the Declaration of the Open Internet of Things Assembly).

Once devices are connected, it means they become more responsive, maybe even context-aware. The same goes for environments, like your city, once a layer of data covers the world.

All this is somewhat vague as terminology, understanding and ethics aren’t fully matured in this space yet – in fact the space itself isn’t fully defined as of yet, as lines are blurry. Yet, we see lots happening there, and the impact can be felt already – only, as so often, this particular part of the future isn’t equally distributed yet.

 

The Good Night Lamp from Good Night Lamp on Vimeo.

An example of how connectedness changes everyday objects: The GoodNightLamp, a family of connected lamps.

2. New manufacture changes production

Related, yet a distinctly different thread, is the emergence of new manufacture, or what’s often referred to as 3D printing and related technologies. (Here, the terminology is much more clearly defined, but in the mainstream discourse mostly turns up referred to as something like “3D printing and stuff”.) Additive and substractive production methods, rapid prototyping, open hardware all have reached a point of maturity where capacities once reserved to big industry is more or less in the hands of individuals that a few years ago wouldn’t have been able to access it.

As a simple example, think of 3D printing. The automotive industry has long been using additive manufacturing (laser sintering, etc.) for rapid prototyping of their models. Dental clinics are printing a good chunk of their dental replacements these days. Architects have been 3D printing and laser cutting models for ages.

Yet, only over the last few years amateurs (in the sense of “non-professional, interested individuals”) and tinkerers have gotten their hands on similar tech. Starting out in the hacker and DIY scene, these production capabilities are entering the mainstream. Not mom-and-pop stores just yet, but almost certainly in every major city you’ll find a maker space that lets you use a printer should you need it. And with more patents expiring every month, we see the field maturing to a point where the production quality gets very close to industrial grade manufacturing, and prices drop to allow for a wide range of new products, services and business models.

 

Makie Makies are dolls, made possible through custom, on-demand 3D printing.

3. Berlin’s emerging startup ecosystem

These trends lead to a whole new emerging ecosystem of startups, entrepreneurs, ideas, services around the globe. But it’s still early days. So far, the most promising hubs include San Francisco, New York, London and a few others.

I believe that Berlin is in an excellent position to establish itself as a leading hub for the new hardware business. The city’s emerging startup ecosystem, its strong hacker and DIY culture, relatively low cost of living that allows for experimentation, and Germany’s strong tradition in industrial production means Berlin should be capable of enabling a new crop of entrepreneurs to take their ideas from prototype to business, at scale. A number of policies and initiatives aimed at fostering innovation and the connections between industry (Germany’s famous Mittelstand) and the entrepreneurial scene certainly won’t hurt.

This isn’t about competing with other cities — it’s about realizing Berlin’s huge potential.

 

Electric Imp demo at IoTBerlin Prototype demo at an IoT Berlin meetup.

ThingsCon is where these three narratives connect

We put together Things because we think it’s important to interweave the three narratives laid out above — it’s where they culminate in a concrete time and space. Because it’s exchanging ideas and fostering lasting relationships — in other words, building a community — that in my experience helps more than any big initiative. Peer exchange, learning from each other, helping each other — and knowing who to call when you hit a wall of some sorts — is incredibly valuable.

We believe that Things can help with that, and provide the kind of space for these kinds of connection to be built. So let’s get this done together!

So what are we planning to do concretely?

Primarily, we aim build an awesome event for exchange, learning, networking. A space to connect and foster lasting relationships. To learn from others who’ve been there, done that. To learn how to best get from prototype to designing for scaling, to building a business. Hosted in Berlin, but with an international focus, the focus is on building connections between Berlin and not just the rest of Germany, but all of Europe (and beyond, wherever possible). We’ll get the most interesting folks from all over Europe together in Berlin, put them in a room, shake it up thoroughly, and surely some amazing things will emerge.

 

ThingsCon target audience Sketch: Our mental model of who ThingsCon is for.

 

Leading up to Things, we’re currently planning a road trip where we take a number of entrepreneurs, innovators, tinkerers, startups and what have you to meet more of the Mittelstand, to visit production facilities and industry representatives and researchers. By fostering that dialog, we believe we can help create lasting relationships and lots of value as both sides can help each other and learn from each other. And, of course, do business together.

Third, we’ll announce Hardware Day Berlin. Think of it as a flag in the ground for other events to gather around and turn Berlin into a hardware hub for the day, with lots of workshops, meetups, events of all kinds. Hardware Day Berlin will (most likely) take place on 2 May 2014, the first of two days of ThingsCon.

If you’re interested in attending, stay tuned for updates here, on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter. If you’d like to get involved in some role (as a sponsor, by organizing an event on Hardware Day, as a speaker, or as a partner for our IoT-meets-Mittelstand road trip), or if you just want to learn more, please ping us.

Thank you and see you soon at Things!